The Mysterious Disappearance of the Giant Lacewing – Rediscovered After 50 Years!
In 2012, while he was a doctoral student at the University of Arkansas, Michael Skvarla was walking into Walmart to get milk when he saw a huge insect on the side of the building. He immediately knew it was something unique, so he put it in his hand and continued his shopping. Little did he know that almost a decade later, he would be the director of Penn State’s Insect Identification Lab and be credited with the rediscovery of the giant lacewing — a Jurassic-era insect that was mysteriously extirpated from eastern North America by the 1950s.
The giant lacewing has a wingspan of roughly 50 millimeters (almost 2 inches), making it quite large for an insect. This fact alone was a clear indicator that what Skvarla had originally labeled an “antlion” was in fact a giant lacewing. After his students compared features, the discovery was made, live on Zoom.
The discovery suggests there may be relic populations of this large, Jurassic-era insect yet to be discovered. Experts hypothesize the insect’s disappearance could be tied to an increase in light pollution, suppression of forest fires in eastern North America, the introduction of non-native predators like large ground beetles, and the introduction of non-native earthworms, which significantly altered the composition of forest leaf litter and soil.
The fact that a giant lacewing was spotted in the urban area of Fayetteville, Arkansas may reveal a larger story about biodiversity and a changing environment. Skvarla says that explanations vary for the giant lacewing’s disappearance from North America — and it still largely remains a mystery.
Skvarla’s finding was the first of its kind in the past 50 years and is now published in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington, drawing attention to the importance of insect discovery in seemingly ordinary situations. As Louis Nastasi, a doctoral candidate in entomology at Penn State said in a statement, “But a finding like this really highlights that even in a run-of-the-mill situation, there are still a tremendous number of discoveries to make about insects.
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